“I would have been equally angry”: U.K. High Commissioner about attack on India’s High Commission in London

In his first public remarks since the incident at the Indian High Commission in London, HC Alex Ellis says that India and the U.K. are “capable of dealing with disagreements”

Updated - May 10, 2023 10:51 pm IST

Published - May 10, 2023 08:18 pm IST - NEW DELHI

 Alex Ellis, British High Commissioner to India. File.

Alex Ellis, British High Commissioner to India. File. | Photo Credit: Ravindran R 

“I would have been equally angry,” said U.K. High Commissioner Alex Ellis, speaking about the violence at the Indian High Commission in March this year by pro-Khalistan groups who took down the tricolour and caused a rift in ties between India and the United Kingdom.

In his first public remarks since the incident, Mr. Ellis — who was addressing a think-tank event about the U.K.’s Strategic “Integrated Review Refresh” — said that relations between India and the U.K. were “absolutely central” to the U.K.’s plans for the Indo-Pacific and its future foreign policy. The two countries are “capable of dealing with disagreements”, as over the issue of extremism, he added.

‘Eyes on the prize’

“I think there is no disagreement between [India and the U.K.] that what happened at the Indian High Commission was absolutely not okay,” Mr. Ellis said, speaking at the Ananta Centre in Delhi, referring to the protests on March 19, that led to an uproar in India, and a formal demarche from the Ministry of External Affairs. “It’s a symptom of an issue, which is Khalistani extremism. Now, we look at extremism not in relation to any one particular group of people. But overall, extremism is a risk in any country,” Mr. Ellis said. He added that tackling disinformation, radicalisation at religious institutions and other measures were part of the U.K. government’s “toolkit” in dealing with the problem. The High Commissioner also said that it was necessary to keep “eyes on the prize” of closer India-U.K. strategic ties, and to complete the bilateral Free Trade Agreement as soon as possible, before both countries move into their election cycles in 2024 and 2025.

Mr. Ellis’ comments on extremism come weeks after the British Foreign Office published the results of an independent commission’s report — known as the Bloom report — on dealing with faith and religious extremism . In a press release, the British government had said that the report had recommended “a better understanding of faith... to tackle issues such as forced marriage... and faith-based extremism, including the ongoing challenge of Islamist extremism, and the small but growing trends of Sikh extremism and Hindu nationalism.” 

The Chinese challenge

Speaking about the U.K.’s integrated review, which was presented in the U.K. parliament on March 13, the British High Commissioner said that the latest review was driven by four different aspects: sharper geopolitical rivalries; the rise of the Indo-Pacific and India, and the role of China and the U.S. there; the speed of technological advances; and the need to achieve UN-developed Sustainable Development Goals. 

Mr. Ellis said that the review had noted that China was an “epoch defining challenge”, and that as an autocracy and a one party-state, it was different from the U.K. and its other partners. He also mentioned that in several areas, such as telecommunication infrastructure and 5G, there had been “a reduction in trust“ of China, which led to the need for other suppliers. When asked about the U.K.’s policy on China given its Indo-Pacific policy, Mr. Ellis said that the U.K. followed a three-pronged strategy: to protect itself from Chinese threats to its security; to align with other partners, including India, in the U.K.’s “desire for a free and open Indo-Pacific”; and to engage with China directly as well on issues of common interest. He also made a particular mention of China’s security crackdown in Hong Kong, which is an erstwhile British territory, and said that it was “totally unacceptable and has consequences in the U.K.”. 

The High Commissioner’s remarks led to a sharp retort from a Chinese diplomat in the audience — which included analysts, media and diplomats from several embassies — who protested the discussion of China at a forum for India-U.K. ties. However, Mr. Ellis said that there were “consequences” to China’s “great importance” in the world, and it was not out of the ordinary to discuss Beijing’s behaviour anywhere in the world today.  

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